We all heard about the strife that COVID-19 caused for Broadway performers who had to put their dreams on hold and find ways to eke out a living that didn’t include in-person song and dance numbers, but less publicized thespian victims during the COVID era were film actors who were forced into subpar shoestring productions because they were among the only gigs available. The poster child for these victims might be Taye Diggs, who either didn’t build up a sufficient pandemic nest egg or was forced as court-mandated community service into headlining Incarnation, a bare bones haunted house movie that’s a step above shadow puppetry on the entertainment spectrum.
I suppose the fact that this film was made at all is an accomplishment, given the lack of resources during the lockdown, but that lack of resources is quite evident in the final product, whose script confines the action to a single setting with a cast of three and seemingly a crew of one. The earlier comparison to shadow puppets is apt, as several scenes appear to be lit by a single lightbulb. It feels like first-time writer-director Isaac Walsh filmed everything himself with an iPhone (although supposedly there was a crew of 20 people), as shots feel uncomfortably close, with the cast maneuvering around him to avoid bumping into the camera. At times, things feel so unpolished and awkwardly intimate, I had to remind myself I wasn’t watching a fetish voyeur video.
The very basic story was presumably written with the limitations of the COVID age in mind, but that doesn’t excuse its lethargy, predictability and dearth of scares. Films like Host showed that quality horror can be shot over Zoom, so this Amityville Borer should receive no slack as far as quality goes. The plot is familiar: married couple Brad (Taye Diggs) and Jess (Jessica Uberuaga) move to Los Angeles and rent a house from local weirdo Peter (Michael Madsen, teetering on the verge of murder, as always) that looks like the Amityville house had sex with a planetarium. You know the drill: there are strange sounds at night, doors open and close, birds fly into the window, a shadowy figure appears, yadda yadda yadda.
Brad and Jess are hard up for money (The new 4,000 square foot house probably doesn’t help.) and find a bag of antique gold coins in the house, piquing their greed. Then, a mysterious book of incantations shows up, and before you know it, they’re drawing pentagrams on the floor and conducting a blood offering to an embarrassingly rendered CGI entity they think will make them rich. What could go wrong? If these people sound like annoying idiots who compound bad decisions with more bad decisions, you’d be right, and lucky us, they’re basically the only people in the movie.
To Incarnation’s credit, there are a couple of mildly amusing moments where Brad’s Black survival instincts kick in, and he simply utters “Nope” and leaves the room when something ominous happens. Of course, that makes his willingness to conjure a demon just so he can open a bar feel all the more asinine, especially when the government was literally giving money away to small businesses during COVID. Let’s hope that no one involved sees any value in a Reincarnation.